“The Boomer” is a column written for adults nearing retirement age and those already in their “golden years.” It will also promote reader interaction by posting e-mail responses and answering reader questions. E-mail your questions or topic ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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We do it every year: make grand new year’s resolutions that we work hard on through January, and then by summer, we can barely remember what we even pledged to do in the new year. Then, before we know it, it’s Dec. 31 and we are welcoming in a new year.
Getting fit and losing weight is a popular resolution, especially among the boomer generation. Studies show folks over 50 are the fastest-growing segment of the fitness population, and fitness centers are looking to get cash in by doing everything they can to attract this generation.
Physical activity plays a critical role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle that us boomers crave.
I reached out to Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging and fitness industry veteran, to discuss tips for keeping your body and brain active this year. Here is what he had to say:
Boomer: How can boomers assess their current fitness level before starting a new workout regime?
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Milner: The recommendation used to be that if you were older than 50 and looking to start working out then you should see the doctor for a check-up before starting a regime. Now, unless you have a health issue that would require medical clearance like high blood pressure or heart disease, the recommendation is to just start moving.
The first thing I recommend to boomers looking to be more active is to find something they really like to do. If someone told you to go run on a treadmill to get healthy and you find that boring, you’re likely to stop. Ask yourself: do you like to do things in groups or by yourself? What is your fitness level? There are five different levels of functioning individuals: elite, fit, independent, frail and bedridden.
The elite athlete is someone still in their 60s and can run a marathon and they don't need a whole lot of guidance because they have been doing it for a long time. A fit individual works out two to three times a week and is relatively fit with some aches and pains, but certainly works through it. Then there is the independent individual, which is most of the population. They have low fitness reserves, lack strength and cardiovascular capacity, but they don’t have physical issues preventing them from working out. You then have the frail segment—these people tend to be in rehab or assisted-living communities because they are not strong anymore. That is where my dad is right now. He is on the verge of moving from frail dependent and being able to walk with a walker to now being bedridden. This segment is truly the people that need the most help. The fit and the elite have been doing this for a long time and they know what they are doing, but it is that large frail segment that is probably in the sweet spot for the nation to change the way people age.
To assess your level fitness, conduct a strength assessment to find out what are you capable of lifting and your one repetition maximum. Once you have that number, set a goal of doing 60 to 70% of that. For instance, if I can lift one repetition of 100 pounds once, I would look at doing maybe 65 to 70 pounds to start--one set of 10 reps. Some people may only be able to do it five and that’s OK, just build up from there. Start where you can and build up to your goal and beyond. If you are struggling to lift a weight, it is probably too heavy. If you are getting way out of breath when working out, stop and listen to your body
Boomer: What is the biggest challenge baby boomers have in getting physically fit today?
Milner: Motivation. Energy is one of the reasons why older people don't exercise, but it is also one of the major drivers for why they want to exercise. It’s a catch-22: 69% of adults over the age of 50 exercise to gain energy, but the lack of energy is one of the top 20 reasons why older people don't exercise. Boomers need to realize that in order to gain the energy to do the things you want and to exercise the way you want, you need to break through that lack of energy.
To help combat a lack of energy, look at your diet and work schedule. Check to see if any of your prescriptions have fatigue as a side effect. You have to break through that so you can start living a more vibrant energetic lifestyle.
Boomer. Studies show that if you are active in your senior years you will live longer and improve mental health as well as physical health. Any mental health tips for our boomer readers?
Milner: My first tip for improving mental health is to move. Physical activity—whether it is gardening, walking, or running, can help prevent depression and cognitive issues. Meditation is also a mental health tip for baby boomers, and we’ve seen a growth in meditation, yoga and Pilates. When yoga and Pilates became mainstream they really correlated with baby boomers aged 40 – 45, and has remained part of the growth pattern over the last 15 to 20 years as these boomers age.
If you are taking a walk, connect with yourself and all of your surroundings. Anything that can engage the mind so that it is taken somewhere and helps you connect with yourself is beneficial.
There are many different products on the market that help improve cognitive health—including chain stores like Marbles that sells products all geared toward brain health. There is a wide variety of services being delivered, but the challenge is that many of these are not scientifically proven. According to the National Institute in Aging, there is nothing right now that has been shown to actually impact things like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Learning another language is a great thing for your cognitive abilities.
According to the world health organization, by the year 2020, the second leading cause of premature death and disability will be depression. I expect that over the next 10 years we will see more services like “life balance classes” to become more prevalent. These classes will help you get your life back in balance so that you are not stressed or depressed or becoming socially isolated.
Boomer: With the growth of the baby boomer generation there has been an explosion in health clubs and fitness facilities geared toward fitness and health. What do you see happening with this industry in the future?
Milner: I call it wellness everywhere. When I first started 30 years ago it was all about fitness, and you had about four options. You would either go to a YMCA, a park and recreation center (which had a tiny universal in a dark lit room with black rubber mats), or you would go to what was referred to back then as a “grunt gym” or you would go to a spa to get fit. Now, we have Whole Foods looking at a wellness initiative, Walgreens has come out and said they want to own wellness and you have your corporate wellness. There is a project in Riverside, Calif., called March Life Campus and it is a community being built around wellness. There is another large wellness community being built in Henderson, Ne., that is calling itself the first major health city. Everywhere you look now, you see wellness.
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